To say an artist is ‘genre-spanning’, ‘boundary pushing’ is often far too common a trope these days but with British artist Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner, such phrases could not be more apt.
From early work using found mobile phone conversations, Scanner has created pieces for the world’s most prestigious spaces including Tate and Pompidou Centre, for choreographers Merce Cunningham and Random Dance and collaborations with the likes of Radiohead, Steve McQueen and Derek Jarman.
Innovative and intricate, Scanner’s work combines sound and image in unconventional and beautiful ways, and none more so than his new collaboration, Live Transmission: Joy Division Reworked with Heritage Orchestra. We caught up with Scanner before this unique performance embarks on its UK tour, starting at London’s Royal Festival Hall next week.
How did you come to be involved in Joy Division: Reworked?
‘Back in 2011 I was approached by Brighton based curator Laura Ducceschi, who had a very abstract idea of a show based around Joy Division and had made the connection between Heritage Orchestra and myself towards a grander scale project.’
Are you a Joy Division fan?
‘Absolutely. I’ve long been a Joy Division fan and still vividly remember being at school when Ian Curtis died and the impact that had on many of my colleagues at the time. On a very personal note, my father died the same week that Ian Curtis took his life so it’s always resonated in a very affecting way. I’ve amassed a wealth of bootleg recordings of many shows over the years to ensure I’ve got a complete picture of their sound too.’
Joy Division has a pretty devoted fanbase – were you nervous about their reaction to reworking their music in such a unique way?
‘You are absolutely right – their audience is very committed and respectful towards their work, which is perfectly correct, but left me in a very precarious position. It felt important to take risks but keeping the listener in mind all the time. Curiously, I wrote many of the pieces from memory so they aren’t cover versions or tributes as such. There have been countless variations and versions of Joy Division tunes over the years but I thought it would be more playful and interesting to work from a very personal approach, that is my own reading of Joy Division.’
What was it like combining the worlds of electronic and classical on such an epic scale?
‘The work retains the epic character of the original music but absolutely avoids becoming overwrought, since working with an orchestra you can create such incredible sonic space and character through the gentlest touch of a bow, the breath of a singer. There is an incredible joy translating something that is made within the confines of a studio into a monumental collaboration with the orchestra.’
Can you explain a little about the creative process involved in bringing Joy Division and Ian Curtis’ legacy back to life?
‘To begin is always the hardest part. I chose a palette of sounds that appealed to my ears and complimented the original Joy Division sonic world and wrote works purely from memory, turning them into demos to play to the orchestrator Tom Trapp and the ensemble. These were then rapidly translated and remodelled and rehearsals took place in a Hackney studio with the key band members to thrash out the arrangements in the real world.
‘A little while later we united with the orchestra and the persuasive skills of conductor Jules Buckley in a much more expansive rehearsal studio and competed with Primal Scream and Keane rehearsing on either side of us to play through the entire set and develop it as it is largely heard today on stage.’
What is your favourite area of London?
‘I’ve lived in London all my life and am fascinated by so many parts but I would definitely choose the area I’ve lived in for the last 15 years, Bethnal Green, which retains an authenticity and joy. It’s a close enough walk to Brick Lane, Broadway Market and Mile End but just far enough away to return to the silence of home.’
What would your perfect London day out involve?
‘A day without a schedule where the sun would be shining, breakfast would feature a fresh fruit juice and my wife and I would wander through Broadway Market, have lunch at the Dove Pub, look in the book shops, pick up some tasty organic vegetables to eat for dinner later on, then take the tube over to St Paul’s, take a walk along the river via Tate Modern and the BFI, stop off and eat a naughty cake somewhere on the way, then return home to eat a freshly cooked dinner and take a trip to Genesis Cinema in Mile End to catch a new film. Bed before midnight.’
And night out?
‘My clubbing days are behind me so it would be late night film screening in Prince Charles Cinema or a gig at Koko, Village Underground or anywhere else showing dynamic innovative music!’
Where in London have you never been, but always wanted to go?
‘Living in such a vibrant city means that you can spend a lifetime and never see enough of it. I’ve never been to countless places, whether it’s The Ritz for breakfast, Charles Dickens Museum, Dr Johnson’s House, The Houses of Parliament, not even Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument. Thankfully the list is endless so I’ll never be short of places to go.’
What do you think is London’s best-kept secret?
‘The Hunterian Museum is a hidden gem, filled with the most curious specimens and objects, to unsettle, puzzle and intrigue. An amazing place!’
Where in London do you feel most creative?
‘I’m always inspired when I see other creative work so whether it’s a music concert, a film or an exhibition so there’s no one place that really sets me into action. That’s a positive joy.’
Which song do you think best encapsulates London?
‘From such a wealth of songs, I’d pick out Up The Junction by Squeeze which captures a working-class pictorial of Clapham in a poignant and moving way.’
And what is next on the agenda for Scanner?
‘An eclectic year as always continues. I’m giving a masterclass in The Joy of Sound at Alain de Botton’s School of Life at The Dairy in London in October, then presenting new work at Zygote Festival in Sleaford where I’ve composed the score for an entire day of performances, acrobatics, installation, then curating a night at the BFI for their Gothic Festival in December featuring films and performances buy many special guests.’
Scanner will perform with Heritage Orchestra in Live Transmission: Joy Division Reworked at Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 21 September.